New San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers came out as a lesbian in an Outsports piece yesterday, making her the first ever openly gay coach not just in NFL history, but in the history of major male American pro sports. From the article:
“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers, openly lesbian, told Outsports when asked why she is discussing her sexual orientation publicly for the first time. “There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation.
“The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”
Sowers, 31, is a pioneer not just because of her sexual orientation, but also because she’s only the second-ever full-time female NFL coach, after the Bills’ Kathryn Smith in 2016. She’ll be an offensive assistant working with wide receivers.
Sowers has a football background as both a player and a coach. In 2013, she led the U.S. to gold at the Women’s World Championship, and last year, she was a scouting intern with the Atlanta Falcons. Apparently, Sowers made a strong enough impression in Atlanta that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan brought her with him when he became the 49ers head coach this year.
As Outsports notes, Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli, whom Sowers calls “a close friend and mentor,” got a detailed shoutout in Sowers’s Facebook post when she first got the job. Pioli also helped mentor Ryan O’Callaghan, a former player who publicly came out in June and has reportedly counseled other gay NFL players.
This is good! Sowers mostly downplays the significance of her orientation in the interview, and it seems like each new story about an athlete or sports figure coming out is making less and less of a splash, but—for both women and queer people—there are still some pretty sturdy barriers to big-time sports jobs. Sowers describes these in the interview:
As I was finishing college, I actually got turned down from a volunteer coaching job (basketball) because I was a lesbian. I was told “because of your lifestyle, we ask that you do not come around the team.”
That moment really impacted me because it was the first time I truly felt judged because of my sexual orientation. I was so passionate about coaching and to feel like my opportunities were limited because of who I loved was hard to deal with. However, without that experience I would not be where I am today.
Other teams take their cues from the biggest organizations, and the 49ers can be a potential trendsetter. If an employee’s sexual orientation doesn’t affect them, it shouldn’t be a negative for any other team.